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Friday, 1 January 2010


Hi Simon. Just A quick HAPPY NEW YEAR you all, and to let you know that Ian with Sally's help has seen to the chimney. So you should be OK for when you come out on the 11th. Cheerio Mark.
A welcome message from Mark in Ano Korakiana with news about our problem chimney at 208 Democracy Street. Ian, the builder we found through Nick at Skripero, needed to add another length of stove pipe that reached higher above our roof, support it and top it with a spinner that would ensure it drew. Our chimney is inaccessible; just reachable by extending ladder from Leftheris' garden, and defended by wasps. The job was impossible until winter:
Oscar goes off piste
Meanwhile, back at the ranch....we sit, my mother and I, before a log fire, with plenty of wood brought in from the lean-to. The village is only a few hundred yards away but more snow in the night has blocked the lane to all but tractors and walkers. I'd cleared short pathways so that I and Sharon, my mum's helper, could get into the garden - a particular concern of my mother's, who watches a regular flow of garden birds, through her bedroom window, visiting half a dozen feeders full of seed and nuts hung from shelters on posts - robins, blue tits, chaffinches. There was a power cut for an hour after a snow-burdened tree fell on a power line to the houses at our end of the village.
After lunch, the dogs were demanding a walk. I set out, well clothed, into knee deep snow, through which the terriers bobbed, lunging through drifts that could bury them. I trudged slowly but steadily up the esker east of us, sometimes making a route for the dogs, though most of the time they seemed keen to go their own way, standing now and then to get their bearings. The landscape is pristine; Brin Rock showing over mist further down the Strath.
I don't take this terrain for granted. I know it well enough, but lose the light or get caught in a snow squall and everything changes. Today the quiet is palpable; the land like new, crossed in places by wild animal tracks already fading into the snow, while under the larger trees are shallower places slightly rank where sheep have sheltered, warming each other. I hear my breathing as I work slowly up the esker, feeling for dips with my stick. Nothing else most of the time, especially as on the down slope the esker's bulk lies between me and the road to Whitebridge via Ruthven. It's not silence, just a landscape where smaller sounds are allowed - snow clumping off a tree that swings upright relieved of its weight, a buzzard mewing in the distance, the sounds of the dogs working through drifts over their heads, panting like me who can almost hear - certainly feel - my heart beating both for exertion and for the content of this winter realm, made the nicer by the prospect of a warm hearth, hot tea and a carefully nursed glass of Laphroaig - I still pronounce it something like 'leapfrog' - that's been sitting in a cupboard at Brin Croft.
I follow a forestry track a few hundred yards then turn into the woods already exhausted with wading. Snow's up to my waist at times. The dog's follow, trusting me, passing through the gorges I create. Then, over a fence half hidden, following it through the unkept grounds of the 'ghost house' - the Lodge - where, once, the long absent owner, to discourage vandals, suspended a teaspoon in mid air on black thread, so that if you peered through a window, as I did long ago with my children and, now adult, nephews and nieces, you'd see it floating, and on a wall inside, daubed in dripping paint, the sentence, 'do not disturb us we are sleeping'. I'm told that if you trespassed inside and opened a door, a string attached to it, made another door bang upstairs. I recall a rusty hatchet buried in a lintel. The uncarpeted floor creaked. Add to this a fellow intruder going "wwaaaa waaaa woooooo rrrroooooaaaaarrrrr wooooo!" Nightmares guaranteed.
Whose woods these are
The owner's nailed plywood over every downstairs window after campers - a dozen young people apparently dropped off in the area by their parents a few years ago, smashed glass in the Lodge that had lasted at least as long as I've been roaming Strathnairn, and started a fire in the woods that was put out by locals before it spread.
Meanwhile from far away - a reply on Facebook from John Martin to my birthday greeting:
Thanks Simon, Just got home after Amy's Ride some 60kms around the Bellarine Peninsula from Geelong down to Queenscliff. Had a swim in the solar heated pool (34C!) and am off to the Foundry for a beaut steak and a red for my birthday. I am a lucky boy indeed! Cheers, John
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A ramble on the roots of the current situation in Greece by Avirama Golan at with interesting insights and quotes, including one from the inventor of Inspector Haritos, Petros Markaris, and in its title 'Beautiful and strange homeland' [Όμορφη και παράξενη πατρίδα] - a poem by Odysseus Elytis, sung by George Dalaras:
Όμορφη και παράξενη πατρίδα
Ωσάν αυτή που μου 'λαχε δεν είδα
Ρίχνει να πιάσει ψάρια πιάνει φτερωτά
Στήνει στη γη καράβι κήπο στα νερά
Κλαίει φιλεί το χώμα ξενιτεύεται
Μένει στους πέντε δρόμους αντρειεύεται
Κάνει να πάρει πέτρα τηνε παρατά
Κάνει να τη σκαλίσει βγάνει θάματα
Μπαίνει σ' ένα βαρκάκι πιάνει ωκεανούς
Ξεσηκωμούς γυρεύει θέλει τύραννους
Πέντε μεγάλους βγάνει πάνω τους βαρεί
Να λείψουν απ' τη μέση τους δοξολογεί.
I’ve never seen a homeland more strange and beautiful
Than this one that fell to my lot
Throws a line to catch fish catches birds instead
Sets up a boat on land garden in the waters
Weeps kisses the ground emigrates
Becomes a pauper gets brave
Tries for a stone gives up
Tries to carve it works miracles
Goes into a boat reaches the ocean
Looks for revolutions wants tyrants
* * *
In the early hours I peer through my bedroom window. The moon is full and high. Alles schläft; einsam wacht. [Flashbacks to around this time a year ago and two years ago and my first entry on Democracy Street on 1 April 2007. I love the quote from J.B.Jackson:
The bicycle had, and still has, a humane, almost classical moderation in the kind of pleasure it offers. It is the kind of machine that a Hellenistic Greek might have invented and ridden. It does no violence to our normal reactions: It does not pretend to free us from our normal environment.]
* * *
Jasper Schuringa was visiting the USA from Holland - the first to leap towards the failed faith-assisted suicidée on a plane coming into to Detroit Metropolitan - a busy airport at any time with, at Christmas, the lights of four descending planes at once visible from the milling concourse. Schuringa burned his hand attempting - it seems successfully - to put out flames meant to detonate the PETN sewn into the other man's crotch "so they would be near his testicles and unlikely to be detected"
(It won't be just "remove your belt, sir" in future, especially if suicidées use IEDs like drug mules - and if as a result we start to use body scanners, there'll be longer Qs - also vulnerable. Ooh ah missus...passeggeri nudi ai check-in... what a dilemma! Toss for virtual strip search or full pat down. See also - who profits and if they really work)
I wonder how I'd behave in Jasper's situation? A study done years later - which I must dig out - of those who'd given sanctuary to Jews during WW2 showed that, unlike those wouldn't get involved, these people had been accustomed to pondering with the encouragement of their parents “What would you/we do if…" We were like that and Lin and I played moral dilemmas - as a game - with Richard and Amy, but I was warned by Jack never to judge anyone by assuming from what you know or think of their present character, what they might actually do in a crisis (why Peter's denial is so cogent and human, because swore he would not do what, in fear, he later did)
My stepfather said that when push comes to shove you never know how you or any one else will act. People who’ve won medals will say they surprised themselves. This was true of the small minority in the Milgram experiments who refused to administer electric shocks (albeit fake ones, as they learned after) to another. Some who resisted the pressure of authority in Milgram's labs were also people who would fail the recruitment interviews of many agencies - being likely to be assessed as troublemakers. Milgram wisely reminded us, while warning of its dangers, that conformity, and therefore an impulse to obey authority, is essential to social cohesion. Hm? So who was the hero on the plane? We know a name and a few other public details, but what of his character? (Meanwhile there must be a training camp where the very faithful are carefully practising setting light to the fuses of IEDs secreted in intimately confined spaces. Oh dear oh dear. The things men do for their gods.)
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A helpful overview in New Athenian of the year 2009 in Greece

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Simon Baddeley